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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Badger Cull

Friday, October 26, 2012

During the debate in the House of Commons on the proposed Badger Cull Meg Munn MP gave the following speech. The entire debate is available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm121025/debtext/121025-0002.htm#12102527000002

Following the debate a vote was taken on the motion to stop the cull – 147 MPs voted in favour, 28 against. Meg was a teller and in accord with practise did not vote, however her position is clear from the speech.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): There should be no doubt in the minds of Members on both sides of the House that bovine tuberculosis has serious economic and emotional implications for a number of farmers in the United Kingdom. We need to find a sustainable and human solution to this scourge.

According to the scientific evidence, to achieve a significant reduction in bovine TB badger culling would need to be taking place over a huge geographical area—as large as 500 sq km. It would also need to be very intensive, virtually wiping out the badger population in the area.

The Government must make clear what they intend to do following the initial trials. Will their policy be to allow culling over a much larger area, with much larger numbers of dead badgers? That could pose a risk to the badger population as a whole.

As Members are well aware, the problem is that a cull of less than 70% means ineffective disease control, while a cull of more than 70% means a risk of eradication of the badger population across the country. The Government claim to have devised much more effective culling methods, but how can we know when those methods have not been tried yet? Given that shooting badgers has never been used in the UK before as a means of control, it must be doubtful whether it would lead to the same results in bovine TB eradication as the badger trials conducted by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB.

A follow-up report on the randomised badger culling trial, published in February 2010, warned of the need for any cull to be well planned and co-ordinated, and of the potential for small-scale or irregular culls to result in increases rather than decreases in bovine TB incidence.

The Government have so far failed to co-ordinate the figures for the number of badgers in the cull areas for the purpose of meeting their 70% target. The latest survey data show the number of badgers in each cull area to be double the figure used by DEFRA to calculate the costs of the cull. DEFRA used a figure of 1,300 badgers in each 300 sq km cull area, but on 17 October it revealed in a written answer that the figures were actually 3,600 in west Gloucestershire and 4,300 in west Somerset. The Minister’s response to my question about the figures this week was also confused.

It is clearly difficult to monitor the badger population accurately. This week, Lord Krebs referred to a variation of between 1,000 and 5,000 in the space of just a few days. However, Natural England needs to know the actual number of badgers in each area in order to know how many must be killed. Without such accurate population data, it is hard to assess whether the 70% target can be met, or how the results of the trial can be compared with those of previous trials that were conducted on independent scientific basis.

Roger Williams: One of the problems with the Krebs trials was that they were interrupted by the foot and mouth outbreak. Instead of five annual culls in five years, there were four culls spread over a period of between five and six years.

Meg Munn: I am not sure exactly how that relates to what I have been saying, but the hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record.

Protecting wildlife is something about which I feel strongly, and I know that many Members in all parts of the House feel the same. The Council of Europe’s convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats, also known as the Berne convention, is a legally binding convention that aims “to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats”.

There are currently 50 signatories, including all the members of the European Union and the Union itself, as well as several other European and north African countries. The United Kingdom Government have been a signatory since the 1970s. Badgers are listed in appendix III of the convention, and contracting parties are committed to prohibiting “the use of all indiscriminate means of capture and killing and the use of all means capable of causing local disappearance of, or serious disturbance to, populations”.

Article 9 provides contracting parties with the conditions under which exceptions can be made to the rules protecting appendix Ill-listed species. They include the prevention of “serious damage” to livestock, but only in circumstances in which there is “no other satisfactory solution”, and only when the action taken “will not be detrimental to the survival of the population concerned”.

Because of the controversial nature of this badger cull, secrecy is required in its planning and start; but we know, farmers know, and the local populations know what is happening, and that must place a question mark over the effectiveness of the operation.

The safety of the public in the two areas involved poses a potential problem. If the public are to be 100% safe, the boundaries will have to be revealed, but that would prevent the identity of participating farmers and landowners from remaining secret. Moreover, the taking of precautions to avoid any criminal activity by protesters—not only to avoid damage, but to ensure the effectiveness of the cull—would become harder to achieve. It should be borne in mind that, according to the 2011 consultation, more than 50% of public opinion is against the cull.

The Government’s impact assessment has already shown that the cull will cost farmers more than it saves them. In a follow-up to DEFRA’s document containing the estimated costs of various culling methods, a report on the randomised badger culling trial pointed out that those estimates did not include any capital cost to farmers or costs of training and co-ordinating efforts, and concluded that the costs of this culling method could exceed the long-term financial benefits.

Following Natural England’s updated figures for the badger population, the National Farmers Union has admitted that the cost to farmers would be too high. If the ultimate objective is to prevent the slaughter of cattle and therefore a loss of farmers’ livelihoods, why do the Government believe that the appropriate solution is to put a greater financial strain on farmers and on the public purse?

The Government recognise that vaccination is the real strategy for the long term, but they are downplaying the current possibilities. As other Members have pointed out, although the oral badger vaccine would have greater potential for more widespread use, we must accept that its development is some years away. However, developing and using the injectable vaccine would be a step in the right direction.

In 2007, the previous Government decided not to licence farmers to cull badgers, but to make vaccination a priority, and increased spending on vaccines. Over the last 10 years, DEFRA has spent more than £7 million on research into badger vaccines, and in March 2010 the first TB badger vaccine was authorised. The plan had been to deploy it in six areas in England, but that was reduced to one area in June 2010. The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) has discussed the 2010 study, which showed that positive TB tests among badgers were reduced by almost 74%.

Vaccinating cattle to give the herd a level of combined immunity, which slows the spread of the disease until it reaches zero, should be developed. I will not discuss that point in detail as it has already been addressed. We know, however, that vaccinating cattle and having a DIVA test are the right things to do.

This debate is titled, “Badger Cull”, but it is not just about saving the lives of badgers; it is also about saving the lives of cattle. The key point is that we must do what is effective not only for the short term, but for the long term. I believe that the Government have got this seriously wrong. There is an alternative, and they should take it.

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